|First Lessons: Mercy
Author: gunhilde PM
Jergen and Arnbjorn differ on the definition of the word.Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Angst - Words: 2,402 - Reviews: 3 - Favs: 7 - Published: 03-23-12 - Status: Complete - id: 7952038
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
AN: You'll have to forgive me for a bit of canon stretching here—when I first started writing All Danger is Near to Death, I couldn't find any information about Jergen online, just that he'd rescued the twins and then that he was dead. So when constructing the timelines and such, I had him live through the Great War. Later on I found that he'd actually died in it, but well, that screws up the rest of…well, everything…so you'll have to forgive me for that. :)
4E 176, Third of Frostfall
It's supposed to be a routine mission, clear out a cave of frost trolls a few miles from Falkreath, for they've been bothering the local farmers. Jergen likes these jobs; he doesn't have to think too much about them. Go in and bash some skulls, collect the septims, and return home for a drink. A veteran of many battles and one war, and getting no younger as the days go by, Jergen isn't too proud to appreciate an easy fight for what it is, and his old bones thank him for it. They are stalking through the woods of Falkreath to find the cave, Jergen in the lead and Arnbjorn following. Despite his general pleasure at the assignment, a nagging worry rends at Jergen's gut when he thinks about the lad, admitted to the Circle only a few weeks before. He's still not sure if it was a good idea. The boy is headstrong and fierce and violent in a way that Jergen does not always understand. He's angry, but at what, the rest of the Companions have yet to discover. Despite his reservations, Arnbjorn has taken to the blood as well as any of them could have hoped. Jergen himself was his forebear. The lad's transformations are controlled. Well-guarded. It's his human form that worries Jergen the most.
He puts that from his mind, for right now, the hunt is all that he should think of. The hunt and the kill. Jergen has never been stealthy, and especially not now as he's gone to seed, heavy paunch and huge frame crashing through the underbrush. He's never had to be stealthy. Few creatures can stand in his way, not with all of his weight behind the Skyforge battle axe. Few creatures except the Thalmor, he thinks bitterly, as he pushes his way through the woods, Arnbjorn behind him. The boy—man, really, he's past twenty winters at least—was furious when Kodlak wouldn't allow him to go to the front. The Harbinger thought he wasn't ready, and privately, Jergen agrees. The things he saw on the front still haunt his dreams, and he's no green boy.
Behind him, Arnbjorn is cursing, the branches whipping through his long blond hair. "Where the hell is this godsdamned cave?"
"Hush, boy," Jergen says shortly. He's a jovial man, but today the woods have him on edge. There's a scent in the air he doesn't recognize at first, the smell of blood and death layered with something silver and cruel.
"What is it?" Arnbjorn asks. He may be impetuous, but he's not unobservant. His dark eyes sharpen as he slows down to keep pace with the older man. "What do you smell?"
"I'm still not sure," Jergen says. They are in a small clearing, hilly outcroppings dusted with pine trees rising around them. Rocks high enough to conceal a cave. He sees nothing, though, only the rustle of branches in the wind. The flutter of wings as a bird takes flight, cawing.
And then they hear the screams.
Distant, muffled. But loud enough to be heard despite the fact that they're underground. The high shrieks of children, deeper yells. Jergen's sharp hearing picks up the likely trajectory and he's off, Arnbjorn following fast on his heels. They may not have been hired to rescue children, but Jergen is not so heartless as to only fight for coin.
They find the cave and for a moment Jergen's mind can't quite comprehend the horror of it. They've stumbled on a necromancer's den and for now he's glad the bolts of magic are lancing through the air towards him, glad for the distraction as he pulls the battle axe from its sheath over his back, as he uses it to neatly decapitate one of the necromancers. There are four of them now, and Arnbjorn is tearing into them with the blade of his sword. Jergen is not a subtle fighter. The battle axe cleaves the air in great, sweeping chops, destroying anything in its path. He swings through the pain, as lightning lances over his skin. He swings as the necromancer, panicked now, takes out a dagger to try and slash at him, as though that puny thing could do any damage, as though the man could even get within range of the death-dealing swings before being cut down.
It's not much of a fight, in the end. The necromancers are dead and Arnbjorn is barely even breathing hard. Jergen is, but then, he's getting older. Enjoying a little too much ale and sweetrolls at dinner. But the battle was not the true horror of the discovery. It's the aftermath.
At least one of the necromancers must have been a master, for none of the bodies have fallen to ash. And ah, there are bodies. Even Jergen, boastful and cheery, has no words. Arnbjorn is staring around him with a close-set mouth beyond the lion's mane of his beard. Neither of them have seen anything quite like it before. A small family of corpses, tortured almost beyond recognition, rotting bodies clothed in rags. Green skin slipping from withered limbs. Scattered now around the sacrificial altar, stained with blood. The corpse closest to him was a woman, slender of body, black of hair. The hair is the only recognizable feature about her. Her face is destroyed, her milky eyes watery and dead, her features slack and sliced with knives into something monstrous and inhuman.
In the corner of the room, a whimper.
Jergen whirls on his heel, yanking a torch from the sconce as he goes to investigate. In the alcove are two children, filthy and emaciated, but alive. Barely. The smaller of the two is laying on the ground, deathly still, a nasty-looking gash bleeding sluggishly on his forehead. The bigger child is guarding him, though he too is bruised and Jergen can easily count his ribs. He looks up with blank, pale eyes. Eyes like that, Jergen thinks, shouldn't be seen on children. For all he can't have reached his fifth winter, the boy has the steady stare of a war veteran. The thousand yard stare. Unblinking, the child grips his brother's arm, as though by holding onto him, the world will make sense again.
"We should just put them out of their misery," Arnbjorn says, from behind his shoulder. "The little one looks to be on Arkay's door already, and the bigger one… well, look at him. He's got the stare of an imbecile. His mind's gone. It'd be a mercy."
In response, Jergen, rough bear of a man that he is, scoops both boys up into his arms. They barely weigh anything. "You have no idea what mercy is, lad," he says coldly, as he walks from the cave. "Find your own damn way home."
4E 176, Fourteenth of Sun's Dusk
The boys don't speak for a very long time. The smaller of the two drifts in and out of consciousness for two days after Jergen brings them home to Jorrvaskr, and the bigger one doesn't say a word, only stares at everything with his expressionless face, and snarls if anyone comes too close. Eventually, the smaller boy wakes, and the two of them devour plate after plate of Tilma's cooking. They eat themselves sick. And they become the despair of kind-hearted Tilma's existence. Like two feral dogs, they are suspicious and quick to snap even at a hand extended in kindness.
"I told you," Arnbjorn says, just a touch smugly. "You rescued a pair of imbeciles."
Jergen doesn't think so, merely that a different approach is warranted. He's noticed the children watching him when they think he isn't looking, and so he lets them come to him. Ignores the quiet footsteps tracking him through Jorrvaskr and rushing away if he turns. They follow him at a distance as he eats and sleeps, they watch from the porch when he leaves Jorrvaskr on a job. They're waiting, a pair of solemn-eyed statutes, on the porch when he returns.
One day, he almost trips over them in the mead hall, so close underfoot have they gotten. Exasperated, he grunts, "Watch it, boy."
"I'm not boy," the smaller child says, his pale eyes huge and furious. "My name's Vilkas. He's Farkas."
And to their surprise, Jergen laughs, a loud, roaring guffaw, and catches Arnbjorn's eye across the room. The younger man looks away first.
4E 176, Ninth of Evening Star
It is the ninth of Evening Star when Jergen realizes that there is something very wrong with Arnbjorn. It was supposed to be a routine intimidation, but when the innkeeper's wife comes screaming up the steps of Jorrvaskr, dragging her injured husband in a wheelbarrow behind her, Jergen realizes that perhaps it's Arnbjorn's routine that is the problem. The man's face has been pulped, almost unrecognizable. Jergen's breath hisses from his mouth, and he pays the woman the blood price.
Later in the sleeping quarters, he whirls on Arnbjorn, but the lad stubbornly insists he's done nothing wrong. "You've done nothing wrong? Nothing wrong?" Jergen says, furious. Rarely is his jovial temper stretched to such limits, but there is intimidation and there is cruelty. Combined with the viciousness with which Arnbjorn played with his food, as it were, Jergen has a sinking feeling in his stomach that things are heading for an unpleasant climax.
"Nothing wrong," Arnbjorn repeats.
"We're mercenaries, not torturers!" Jergen snaps. "We do our job because we're paid to. Not because we enjoy hurting people in such a way!"
Neither man notices from the dark of the corner two pairs of wide silver eyes, watching in silence.
4E 179, Sixth of Hearthfire
Jergen is very drunk, but the boys don't mind. He's usually a cheerful and gregarious sot, and he always tells the best stories when he's in his cups. Today, however, something is bothering him and they don't know what it is. He seems tired, morose. They glance at each other but neither wants to be the one to ask the uncomfortable questions. Jergen breaks the silence for them, however. "Promise me one thing, boys," he says grimly. "When you're older, when you're warriors. Always stop and think before you take a life. For it's not just the man killed who's affected. It's you, too. It changes you, in ways you may not understand at first."
Farkas, clearly, does not understand. Vilkas, though, says nothing, but he listens. He looks sideways at Arnbjorn's empty place at the opposite end of the table, and he frowns.
4E 183, Twenty Sixth of Morning Star
"I'm sorry, Jergen," Kodlak says, "But it has to be done. The boy is too wild. Too dangerous. His ways are not our ways."
"I failed him," Jergen says. "I failed you."
"You did all that you could do," Kodlak says firmly. "He is headstrong. But he cannot remain here. This is not the type of Companion Ysgramor would look upon with pride."
"I'll do it," says Jergen. "Tomorrow."
It is a sleepless night he spends tossing and turning in his bed.
4E 183, Twenty Seventh of Morning Star
In the end, it's no use. Arnbjorn is the same as ever, furious, vicious, a barely sheathed-blade yearning to bite into flesh. And when he does it's with a violent fury. No one is ever the same after meeting the blunt of Arbjorn's fist, the edge of his blade. The points of his teeth. In the end, Jergen tells him that he is no longer welcome amongst their number.
"You're kicking me out?" Arnbjorn demands, his face white.
"Your methods are objectionable to the Harbinger," Jergen says. As Arnbjorn's forebear, the discipline falls to him, as distasteful as he finds it. "There is no longer a place for you in Jorrvaskr. I name you outcast. You will never darken this doorstep again."
With a howl of fury, Arnbjorn's face lengthens to the wolf's muzzle, and Jergen sighs. He's getting too old for this. The beast-form doesn't come as easily anymore. Doesn't let go as easily. He's old and tired, but he'll fight, and he'll win, because that is what he has always done. He's bigger than Arnbjorn, even in wolf form, and he uses the size to his advantage, smacking the younger man down with vicious claws and biting teeth. Arnbjorn is no shirking child though, and his tearing teeth rip Jergen's left ear, leaving behind only mangled, bloody flesh. Back and forth they fight, until finally Jergen has his teeth around Arnbjorn's throat. A movement and he could tear out the flesh, destroy his opponent. Leave him bleeding in the dust. Arnbjorn, his progeny. His responsibility, as much as Farkas and Vilkas ever were. His failure.
He retreats. He lets the man go.
"This is mercy," Jergen growls through the wolf's teeth, "I'm giving you a chance to run, dog. Run with your godsdamned tail between your legs. And if I ever see you here again, I'll fucking kill you."
"That's not mercy," Arnbjorn says shortly. "That's stupidity. That's softness. You were always too soft, old man. If I ever come back here, I can guarantee you'll never see it coming."
And he lopes off through the woods, into the unknown.